Thursday, August 05, 2004

Soldiers in the army of compassion

Slate has a report on a Bush campaign rally in Columbus. What’s interesting is Bush’s tendency to use the same words in different contexts (granted, he has a small vocabulary) in ways that are suggestive. One word is heart. He advocates government funding of religious anti-addiction programs because "sometimes it requires a change of heart in order to change habit." But talking about terrorism, he says "we’re facing an enemy which has no heart, no compassion." Compassion is something Our Side has, and evidently it’s a weapon of some kind, because "All of you are soldiers in the army of compassion." He again calls on citizens to love their neighbors, and tellingly says that "We can change America one soul at a time by encouraging people to spread something government cannot spread, which is love." Why on earth not? He didn’t mention gay marriage in this speech, I don’t think, but his approach to that subject makes it quite clear that he thinks government can tell you what to feel about certain people. And while he castigates government, which "can never...put love in a person’s heart," some of us don’t want government or anyone else telling us what emotions to feel towards whom. P.S.: David Brooks, in his 8/7/04 NYT column, says Bush campaign events are "like a travelling road show of proper emotions."

Getting back to the army of compassion, he says that "change agents" can put an arm around someone who needs love and help make their life better. But in the part of his speech about terror, he says "we’ve got to say to people who are willing to harbor a terrorist or feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists." (This could be a reference to the various Islamic charities whose funds the government has seized, to individuals who did nothing illegal themselves but whom the government wishes to criminalize because they knew other people who the government does not like, or nations like Afghanistan under the Taliban.) So change agents are supposed to make judgments about who they feed and shelter, and be darned careful about who they offer love and compassion to, which isn’t particularly Christian, I’d have thought. To sum up, there can be no compassion without judgment of the worthiness of people to receive that compassion, government can’t spread love, and the enemy has no heart. His use of the same sort of words to describe both domestic and foreign policy gives some insight into his thinking, but that’s as far into the dark recesses of Bush’s brain as I care to go today; I’m getting claustrophobic in these cramped environs.

The full text of the Columbus event isn’t online now, but he used very similar language in Dallas Tuesday.

Update: the NYT also has an article on the Columbus rally, but doesn't say whether and how members of the audience were screened. After the "loyalty oath" thing in New Mexico, this needs to be an element of news reports of all Bush/Cheney campaign events.

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